Word of the Week

Letting Go

When I first arrived on the scene as Pastor of Washington Plaza almost three years ago now, I was handed a stack of files to read to get to know the church a little better. Though a common practice-- often it is what occurs with any professional during their first week of work at any job-- I was a bit overwhelmed as I began reading. I wasn't sure what I had gotten myself into.

Within these files I found on my desk, I uncovered more details of the story of the church that had been-- ten, five and even just a couple of years before my arrival. It was a story of conflict. It was a story of misunderstandings. It was a story of theological differences among the members that couldn't seem to be resolved except in a stance of "us vs. them." It was a story about a community of people not fully living up to their God-given potential.

But, for as much I knew that for any organization to be on a path toward growth and vitality the emotional and toxic stuff had to get out, reading over the files made me sad. I could hardly stomach it. I could tell I was already learning to love them and they were such amazing people who had been through a hurricane of church conflict in their history, but they weren't bad people. It pained me to see the reputation of the church from the past continue to cause pain in the present. They deserved better.

Though no Pollyanna in the challenge of this re-building project I'd gotten myself into, I knew the past had to stop with me.

So, what did I do with these files during my first week? Probably I should have turned them back over to the filing system in the office for the archives. But I didn't. I held on to them. I put them where no one in the church could find them, hoping the files wouldn't be missed. Looking back on that first week now, I realize it was my symbolic gesture to say the congregation and I were beginning with a clean slate. I would trust them to be who they said they were when I was hired.

So, now fast forward almost three years, and a free afternoon that I found myself with yesterday. With no one in the hospital this week and no Advent bulletins to work on yet, I decided to engage in my least favorite and usually ignored pastoral office task: filing old papers and sermons. And, as I filed, I re-discovered these documents placed on my desk on my first week here.  I paused for a minute to re-read these papers-- old newsletters, staff reports and church business meeting minutes-- and as I read, I surprised myself. I was no longer afraid.  What was is no longer what is.

For by now, shared ministry and engaging community life is our norm. We've practiced together a new way of valuing every voice, thankfulness and consistency.

We don't yell at one another in church meetings, but ask thoughtful questions and trust the intentions of the leaders we've elected to see projects through. We aren't afraid to talk about Jesus or what it means to be a gay Christian or even to celebrate Advent without the Christmas hymns yet. We seek to appreciate those who serve in church leadership positions so that they don't go running out the door when their term is over. We express love and appreciation for one another in Sunday morning worship services, during lunches we share together after worship as well as the other times during the week.. We are not simply a hospital for the sick-- as has been the motto about this church in the past-- we are a place of discipleship for any to come and place deep roots.

Though we have a LONG way to go in fulfilling our mission, re-reading documents of the church's history encouraged me that we are in the process of living out our dreams.

After three years, I was ready to let go. The files are in the archives as of this morning. I no longer cared who saw them.

The old is gone and the new is on the horizon of becoming.  I'm glad some paper shuffling in my office reminded me of this truth again.